History in Films: Clint Eastwood’s Changeling

Eastwood’s Changeling (2008) portrayed the horrifying events which occurred in Los Angeles, 1928. Angelina Jolie’s character, Christine Collins and her eight year old son Walter live in a nice neighborhood. She’s a manager for the phone company and one evening when she returns home late, her son is missing.


It’s a compelling story for many reasons and while the last third of the film brings to light the Canadian ranch of the man who snatched Walter and other boys, I’m glad Clint Eastwood didn’t focus the film on that. Instead, he focused on Angelina Jolie’s role as an independent woman who stood up to the corrupted Captain of the LAPD. Aided by Presbyterian Pastor Gustav Briegleb, (John Malkovich), an activist used to exposing the ineptitude of the LAPD, he comes to her aid and gets her radio coverage.  The disfranchisement (the police send Christine to an asylum to try to keep her silent) and  “finding” her son and presenting him to Christine in front of a large media crowd is the craziest part of the film, for the boy found is not her son. Here’s where the title comes in. Did you get a chance to read yesterday’s post about changelings?


It is incredulous to think the replacement boy would pacify a mother whose child had been kidnapped.  Writer J. Michael Straczynski (World War Z, Babylon 5) researched the events and created a credible script of corruption, deception, and abduction. Did they find the real Walter? I’m not telling.


The telephone operator was one of the only jobs open to women in the 1920s.  Jolie roller-skates across the room from operator to operator and this touch is not only accurate of the job, it illustrates the early days of the public phone system when you asked your operator to patch your request through using a code of letters and numbers based on the neighborhood. Operators could listen in on your conversations, too. In rural areas, you knew her name and she knew the county gossip. The re-creation of downtown Los Angeles during the late 1920s is perfect. Angelina Jolie gives a fine performance in a multifaceted role.  It’s one of Clint Eastwood’s best films, and one I highly recommend watching.

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